Economic and physical determinants of the global distributions of crop pests and pathogens


Author for correspondence:

Sarah J. Gurr

Tel: +44 (0)1392 723791



  • Crop pests and pathogens pose a significant and growing threat to food security, but their geographical distributions are poorly understood. We present a global analysis of pest and pathogen distributions, to determine the roles of socioeconomic and biophysical factors in determining pest diversity, controlling for variation in observational capacity among countries.
  • Known distributions of 1901 pests and pathogens were obtained from CABI. Linear models were used to partition the variation in pest species per country amongst predictors.
  • Reported pest numbers increased with per capita gross domestic product (GDP), research expenditure and research capacity, and the influence of economics was greater in micro-organisms than in arthropods. Total crop production and crop diversity were the strongest physical predictors of pest numbers per country, but trade and tourism were insignificant once other factors were controlled. Islands reported more pests than mainland countries, but no latitudinal gradient in species richness was evident.
  • Country wealth is likely to be a strong indicator of observational capacity, not just trade flow, as has been interpreted in invasive species studies. If every country had US levels of per capita GDP, then 205 ± 9 additional pests per country would be reported, suggesting that enhanced investment in pest observations will reveal the hidden threat of crop pests and pathogens.